§ 7 pm
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered.—[The Chairman of Ways and Means.]
§ 7.1 pm
§ Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield)
This Bill has been debated for some time and it was the subject of a carry-over motion at the end of the last Session of Parliament. The Committee discussed and debated it at great length. I pay tribute to the members of the Committee—led by its Chairman, the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale)—for their diligent work. I attended the Committee on several occasions and enjoyed its work. It investigated at great length the criticisms and petitions presented by members of the public and by organisations with issues to raise with the promoters of the Bill.
The Bill has now been amended, so there is little more for me to say other than that the promoters would like progress to be made because they fervently believe that it is in the best interests of the people of Birmingham. It has received the overwhelming support of the elected representatives of Birmingham and of the majority of hon. Members. It is part of Birmingham's resuscitation and will provide it with a future that will acknowledge its growing importance as an industrial, commercial, financial and tourist centre of the United Kingdom.
§ 7.4 pm
§ Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
I regret that my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) cannot be present tonight. This will be the first occasion on which he has not participated in these debates. He is in hospital, and I know that all hon. Members will join me in sincerely wishing him every good health. We hope that everything is all right and that he will be back with us soon. He is not responsible for choosing the dates for the consideration of Bills, but I know that he is with us in spirit. I can almost hear him making interjections as we make our points.
This is the first example of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) supporting Birmingham city council. Usually he misses no opportunity to denigrate and abuse it. He has ably presented the Bill to the House, and even though it is his first example of supporting the council, it so happens that on this occasion I do not agree with him.
I do not support the Bill. This is our first opportunity seriously to examine it. Because of our procedures, every Birmingham hon. Member has been prevented from becoming involved in and studying the details of the operation of the Birmingham City Council Act 1985, and the effect that the Bill will have on it. There have been two brief debates—two and a half hours on Second Reading last April, which was a general debate, and a similar debate on the carry-over motion. The detail of the Bill was scrutinised by four hon. Members who, by the rules of the House, could have nothing to do with Birmingham. That point is not always appreciated by our constituents. Birmingham Members, who allegedly know more about Birmingham—and that is true—than any other hon. 70 Member, have not yet been able to examine the detail of the Bill. It is that part of the procedure that we begin this evening.
§ Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
I am perplexed by what the hon. Gentleman has said about my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King), who properly supports a Bill that the Labour-controlled Birmingham city council thinks is in Birmingham's best interest. The hon. Gentleman criticises my hon. Friend because he is supporting one of the few Bills that the Labour-controlled Birmingham city council supports. My hon. Friend, like myself—and I have served for 23 years on the city council—and like my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Bevan) and others of my hon. Friends support what is good for Birmingham. Why should my hon. Friend the Member for Northfield be praised because he has ably presented the Bill but denigrated because he supports something that even the Labour party thinks is for the good of Birmingham? We are all rather perplexed about where we stand. Do we have to criticise the council because it is Labour controlled?
§ Mr. Rooker
Far from it. The hon. Gentleman misses the point. This is not a party political matter.
§ Mr. Rooker
It has not become a party political matter. The hon. Gentleman fails to appreciate that it was carried by a majority on the city council on a free vote. It may or may not be carried in this House on a free vote. There is no party Whip to decide on the merits or demerits of any part of the Bill. My hon. Friends take differing views—as do Conservative Members—on the merits or demerits of the Bill. I do not wish to make this into a party political matter, either in the House or on the city council. Perhaps I should not have said what I did about the hon. Member for Northfield, who is the promoters' spokesperson—in the same way that he was the poll tax Minister's bagman in Committee a couple of years ago. He has presented the Bill and carried it through its stages, but, like me, he has not been able to participate in the detailed examination of it because he is a Birmingham Member.
I wish to discuss the Bill that has come from Committee. I shall make only general remarks as I can make detailed remarks when we discuss the amendments.
I had a major surprise when I read the current, amended Bill and compared it with the Bill presented on Second Reading. It is not the same Bill. After being scrutinised by the Committee, and having listened to all the evidence, I can say that there is nothing in the Bill that will toughen up and make work the supposed financial safeguards of the 1985 Act. That is a major omission by the Committee, which was set up to examine the Bill. The Committee may not have seen it as its remit—I see it as mine, as do my hon. Friends—to examine the finances of the road race.
I oppose the Bill because it does nothing about finances, and so effectively it opens up a bottomless financial pit for poll tax payers in Birmingham. That is very important. Finances are the key reason that the House exists with the powers that it does as control of finances can mean the control of policy.
§ Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument with great care. 71 I was concerned to hear him say that the Bill represents a bottomless pit for our ratepayers on top of the problems with the community charge. Does he feel that the city council will not be able to be careful about expenditure on the road race? What makes him so worried in this regard?
§ Mr. Rooker
I am worried because of the evidence provided by the first three years' accounts—we do not have the accounts for the fourth year. I do not believe that the council will take care and the evidence is in the accounts, as published. Those accounts, in tandem with the debates in the House in 1985, are the reason for my concern.
The Bill refers to the possibility of holding a grand prix. Birmingham, however, runs not a grand prix road race, but a super prix. No one else runs such a race and the idea was to hold a motor race around the streets which was not a grand prix, but which involved fairly fast cars that made a lot of noise and gave excitement. A grand prix, however, is a specific race designated internationally.
Page 39 of the latest annual report and accounts of the city council for 1988–89, with which we are all provided, refers to the Bill by saying that it amendsthe council's power relating to on-street motor racing providing for additional days which could pave the way for a Formula 1 Grand Prix to be held in Birmingham.There are several references in the Bill to a potential grand prix. The hon. Member for Northfield, either on Second Reading or in the debate on the carry-over motion, referred to a grand prix. If the city were to obtain or try for a grand prix, as mentioned in the annual report, there is no doubt that we would be talking about millions of pounds. That is what it has cost other cities around the world to host an international grand prix. To stage the British international grand prix in Birmingham could cost £5 million or more.
No one argues that Birmingham would host such a grand prix every year. That would not be acceptable to Goodwood, Brands Hatch or Silverstone which host the grand prix on alternate years. No doubt there would be a bit of a row about those circuits holding the grand prix only once every four years instead of every three years. The cost to Birmingham could run into millions, but there is nothing in the Bill to impose financial controls on the city council, bearing in mind that the Birmingham City Council Act 1985 does not work financially. There is nothing to stop the council from promoting, touting, operating and funding a grand prix.
§ Mr. Roger King
Such a grand prix is an important matter and, in essence, we want four days of circuit closure to stage such a race. Just about every country would like to host a formula 1 grand prix and many eastern European countries, including Russia, have expressed an interest. I would not quibble with the hon. Gentleman's estimate of a cost of £5 million. I believe that it may well cost more to stage a full formula 1 grand prix, but the benefits from greater sponsorship would be considerable.
I cannot envisage such an opportunity presenting itself to the city council for 10 years, but should that happen it would be subject to much debate within the council chamber. It would be for the local councillors to decide whether they wanted to commit themselves to such an event. The Bill gives them the opportunity to stage such a debate should the opportunity arise. I wholeheartedly 72 endorse the views expressed by the hon. Gentleman as I would not wish to be part and parcel of anything that gave anyone a blank cheque. I trust our local councillors, however, to make the decision.
§ Mr. Rooker
I did not want to go over the top in my estimate of the cost, but if the hon. Gentleman believes that it could come to more than £5 million, I accept that. The hon. Gentleman must recognise, however, that the Bill is a blank cheque. The only financial control on offer is that contained in section 14 of the 1985 Act, but we know that that is a dead duck. There is no financial control that could be imposed on the council.
If Birmingham were to hold a grand prix the hon. Member for Northfield must accept that the present circuit would be unsuitable. There would not only have to be a great deal of debate at Birmingham city council, but another Bill would have to be introduced in the House to require another circuit to be built. What a waste of parliamentary time. There is no power in the Bill to enable the city council to change the circuit. Such a change would require primary legislation.
§ Mr. King
I must put the hon. Gentleman right as the Bill includes provision for alterations to the circuit to extend dramatically the pit facilities. In effect, the Bristol road south route, the southern exit of the city, would become the area in which the cars would be serviced and maintained during the race. Our circuit is superior to that of Monaco, Detroit or Los Angeles. Were we to be offered a grand prix, I do not expect that we would have to build a completely new circuit.
§ Mr. Rooker
We would not be offered a grand prix; we would purchase it. Notwithstanding the changes to the pit and to the circuit as contained in the Bill, it would still be unsuitable for a grand prix. There are no powers in the Bill for the council to make another circuit without primary legislation. That important point must be taken on board.
§ Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)
It would be truly unbearable for the people of Ladywood if the road race became a grand prix. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) for what he said, because, until now, two different stories have been told. In private we have been told that we might get a grand prix, whereas my constituents have been told that there is no chance of that. My constituents would be unable to tolerate a grand prix, but the sponsor of the Bill has notified us of his aspirations to have such a race.
I also want to put it on record that, early on in our consideration of the Bill, we were offered a deal by which some financial constraints would be put in the Bill in exchange for our agreement not to oppose it. Does my hon. Friend agree that such an offer represents an irresponsible attitude? Surely there should be a financial constraint in the Bill whatever the position adopted by the Bill's critics.
§ Mr. Rooker
My hon. Friend touches on the content of some of the new clauses. I do not want to go into those in detail except to say that we were offered a new clause that put workable financial restrictions on the council—it is admitted that those in the 1985 Act do not work—if we dropped all our other objections to the detailed operation of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short), given her constituency interests, was not prepared to do that. The strange thing is that the 73 new clause we were offered did not impose such financial restrictions if a grand prix were held. The new clause that we were offered has now been tabled, word for word, under my name as we want to examine this matter in detail.
Anyone who believes that the Birmingham city centre is all right for a grand prix must take into account that it will not be like the super prix. I shall give three statistics from the 1989 British grand prix. There were 500,000 people over three days, 1,000 helicopter movements, thousands of people camping on a site and 25 acres of hospitality tents. I know that we have tried for hospitality in Birmingham —but 25 acres of hospitality tents?
§ Mr. Rooker
I suggest that my hon. Friend does not put that on the record.
It is therefore of concern that the promoters have quite deliberately put in the Bill references to a grand prix, but have failed to insert the necessary safeguards, both financial and social, that would be required if a grand prix were achieved.
§ Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill)
I emphasise once and for all that the new clause offered to my hon. Friend by his hon. Friends was intended to ensure only that the council kept the promise that it made last time with regard to the super prix. It was never intended that there should be any restrictions on the subsidy from poll tax payers to a grand prix.
§ Mr. Rooker
That is what it was all about and what this debate hinges on when one takes away the detail and the important, but minor, points. It hinges on the fact that it is a bottomless pit—an open cheque, to use the words of the hon. Member for Northfield—for the poll tax payers of Birmingham. Later, I shall compare the effect of the race with other issues.
The Bill was debated on 18 April last year on Second Reading and on the carry-over motion on 13 November. That was the only time in this House in 16 years that I have been shut up by a closure. That was just a quirk. Closures frequently happen and I make no complaint about that. I was on my feet for a few minutes in April at the end of the debate when the hon. Member for Northfield moved the closure. We did not think that the Bill had been debated sufficiently and that it deserved at least two sessions. After all, the equivalent of less than a full parliamentary day would be two three-hour sessions. On 13 November I was on my feet for about five or six minutes when my right hon. Friend the Member for Small Heath moved the closure. I make no complaint about that. All the procedures were followed to the letter. That is exactly what must happen with the rest of the Bill's passage. It merely means that more time is needed to raise the important issues about which there is widespread concern in the city of Birmingham.
This debate—and this applies to any future debates on the Bill—in no way affects the right or the future of two days motor racing on the streets of Birmingham. That is in the power of the 1985 Act and will not be altered in the sense that it will be done away with by the Bill. It is extended. If the Bill takes another 12 months to reach the statute book, or does not reach the statute book, motor 74 racing can continue for two days on the streets of Birmingham. We are not seeking to go back on that or to knock out the 1985 Act.
I say to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) that the motor racing will continue without any financial restrictions. The racing will not be affected by our debate today or any future debates we might have.
§ Mr. David Gilroy Bevan (Birmingham, Yardley)
One purpose of the Bill is to ensure that there is adequate practise for the two days of racing already incorporated in the 1985 Act. It is felt essential from many points of view that for driver acclimatisation and safety there should be at least one day for practise on the circuit. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is an excellent requirement?
§ Mr. Rooker
Yes, of course, on safety grounds I thoroughly agree. That is why the original Act had, in effect, one day for practise—Sunday—and one for racing —Monday. That was the way in which it was intended to be set up. The point that I am making and want to reinforce is that nothing in today's debate or our demanding the debates to which we are entitled to debate the Bill in any way affects Birmingham's right to operate road races for two days a week.
§ Mr. Rooker
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis) says that it would like it to be two days a week. I meant for two days a year.
If the 1985 Act, particularly section 14, was working, it would mean that after this year—the fifth year—the right to operate the race would be curtailed. It is clear that a loss has been incurred over a five-year period. In no way will this year's race make up the losses of previous years. Therefore, there will be a cumulative loss over five years. The 1985 Act contained the fail-safe, the seeds to stop it if it went wrong financially, but those controls are not operating. This debate and any future debates will not affect Birmingham's right to the race.
It is the wilful disregard of secton 14—the financial safeguard—that has led to several amendments to the Bill being tabled and my initial regret that the Bill, having come from Committee, does not contain the safeguards. In the statement which they sent to all hon. Members for today's debate, the promoters requested that we should not accept any of the amendments. When those amendments are debated, I have no doubt that we shall have answers from the hon. Member from Northfield about why we should not accept any of them.
I want to concentrate on the Bill so far, and to do so I must concentrate on the operation of the 1985 Act because the two run in tandem. To kick off, I can do no better than use the words of Mr. David Torvell of Pershore road contained in a letter that he sent to hon. Members last week. I do not know to which hon. Members it was sent. It clearly states: "Two: Selected Birmingham MPs." I have heard many things about the Bill, for example, meetings to discuss the Bill in Brighton last October, to which I was not invited. Obviously, meetings for selected Members do not include me, or any of my hon. Friends here today. 75 They may have included my hon. Friend for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) my own Member for Parliament, but he has not discussed that with me.
The letter from David Torvell was sent to Birmingham Members last week. It was dated 19 February and touches on the Bill's detail and, more importantly, the way that the Bill has operated in practice. The House should appreciate how the laws it passes operate in practice. I shall be happy to let Conservative Members, if they have not received a copy, have one later. Mr. Torvell raises some points and sets out his position regarding the road race.
He says that the race has been run for four years,time enough for teething troubles to have been overcome.That is a fair and moderate statement. He continues:Over that period the Birmingham City Council has repeatedly proved itself unfit to manage the event. Restrictions imposed by Parliament, and undertakings given by the City Council to the Select Committee, are treated by Council officials with open contempt.That is what Mr. Torvell said with reference to the Committee that considered the Bill early last year. He goes on to make three points regarding the powers to extend the 1985 Act that are implicit in the Bill. I shall give one example. He talks about the increasing dangers and inconvenience to which residents and travellers are exposed. Writing about last year's race, he states:Work on the circuit was authorised and advertised to begin not before 7th August".That was in preparation for the race on 27 and 28 August last year. He continues:The Roundabout at Pershore Road/Belgrave Road was obstructed from 19th July to 28th July for reconstruction of a soft-crash area. Contractors confirmed that the work was explicitly for the Road Race (confirmed by City Engineers Dept). Contractors' vehicles not in use and not needed for work obstructed the carriageway.Pershore road, as anyone knows, is a main radial route serving much of south Birmingham and north Worcestershire; it is very much a commuter lane into Birmingham——
§ Mr. Rooker
Indeed; the constituents of the hon. Member for Northfield must have suffered severe disruption travelling into the city centre.
To return to the letter:At a meeting on 14 September Mr. A. J. Richardson (City Engineers Dept) agreed that the work had been done for the Road Race. He also agreed that traffic had been obstructed. When asked why he had disregarded the time limits laid down by Parliament he laughed and said, 'I do not need to pay attention to those powers. I can do it whenever I like under my other powers.'".I shall refer to that point several times in my speech because it is crucial.
Mr. Torvell's second point was as follows:Following the race held on 27–28 August 1989, the contractors failed (as on all previous occasions) to clear up dangerous and unsightly materials.He gives a couple of examples—of scaffolding planks left hanging over the edge of the underpass 20ft above fast traffic, of metal posts and fittings and pieces of wood left lying on the highway, and so on. We know what a danger such objects pose to road users and pedestrians.A new sewer access (known locally as Prince Edward's Latrine) was left uncovered on public open space beside two primary schools.These are serious allegations——
§ Mr. Bevan
Even if Mr. Torvell is correct about the clearing up—and I do not necessarily concede that—does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the amendments that we shall consider this evening would reduce the period of cleaning up from 20 to 10 days, thereby ensuring that the hon. Gentleman's point was dealt with?
§ Mr. Rooker
I shall come to that crucial point later. I promise that this is not one of those times when an hon. Member says that he will deal with a question before he sits down but never answers it.
§ Ms. Short
I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware, as are my constituents, that all the restrictions in the existing legislation—on when the council can erect fences and take them down and on clearing up—have been breached, so how can we have confidence that the new restrictions in this Bill will be honoured?
§ Mr. Rooker
I cannot answer that question, except to say that we have to bear in mind the experience of the past four years.
Mr. Torvell told me that Mr. Richardson was asked on 14 September what action he had taken on these points. He replied:'If, after 16 December I receive reports that contractors have not cleared up, then I may consider adjusting their payments.When asked why no checks had been made on the dangers to motorists and pedestrians and why no attempt had been made to supervise the contractors, no answer was forthcoming from the city engineer's department. Mr. Torvell goes on to mention entertainment and hospitality, but I do not want to go into that in detail, save to point out that he mentions that the Birmingham Post and the Birmingham Evening Mail consistently censored all references to hospitality in readers' letters. Perhaps my hon. Friends will deal with such points when they speak on the amendments.
My last point relates to the council's 11 undertakings to the Select Committee in respect of future races. The undertakings were read out by the hon. Member for Northfield in our November debate. Mr. Richardson makes the point that the council undertook, in a letter from Mr. Tricklebank of the chief executive's department, to implement the undertakings that could be implemented for the 1989 race. In other words, there was no need to wait for the passage of the Bill to implement the undertakings —they are not consequential upon it. Some of them could have been implemented for the 1989 race——
§ Mr. Terry Davis
I believe that my hon. Friend may have attributed to Mr. Richardson remarks that were made by Mr. Torvell. Mr. Richardson, in the city engineer's department, is alleged to have taken a nonchalant attitude to breaches of undertakings.
I want to draw my hon. Friend's attention to Mr. Torvell's point about costs being misattributed. My hon. Friend knows that Mr. Torvell claims that the road race has damaged school playgrounds and buildings. That damage has been made good by the education department from the education budget, and the money does not appear in the accounts of the road race. I am sure that my hon. Friend shares my genuine and general concern about the lack of repairs to school buildings in Birmingham. Some schools in my constituency have leaking roofs and 77 we are continually told that the money to undertake these essential repairs is not available—yet the education budget is being robbed in the way I have described.
§ Mr. Rooker
It appears to be easier to get the super prix circuit resurfaced than to get school playgrounds resurfaced. I hope that I did not misquote Mr. Torvell by calling him Mr. Richardson.
§ Mr. Rooker
I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not saying that if the education budget has been underspent the money can be chucked into the road race budget——
§ Dame Jill Knight
If the road race caused damage that was not put right immediately, that is a serious matter that I would want to take up. The question that the hon. Gentleman dragged into the debate, however, perhaps because he thought it might be a good political point, was that the fabric of schools elsewhere in Birmingham needed attention. I suggest that those are two different issues. The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Bevan) was valid: the fabric fund had not been spent as it should have been. The hon. Gentleman, however, has made a point solely to do with the road race, and it is a serious one. I was interested to hear about it because I have not heard it before.
§ Mr. Rooker
I am grateful for the tone of that intervention. I abhor underspending of budgets as much as I abhor overspending—it upsets the finances. It is just not on to leave schools, some of which do not get painted and some of whose roofs do not get repaired for 20 years, without maintenance. I have made my views on that privately and vocally known to those in a position to do something about the problem. It was not I who raised the issue of school playgrounds; it was Mr. Torvell, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hodge Hill quoted that part of his letter.
As for the undertakings, Mr. Torvell says:In the opinion of local residents not oneof the 11 undertakingswas implemented.That beggars belief. There was a promise of a telephone line for citizens needing information: no line was provided. The normal lines were unmanned. There was a promise that there would be no undue interference with religious worship. Worship at St. Luke's church was disrupted by engine tests within 50 yards beginning two hours early. St. Catherine's was also affected. There was a commitment to the provision of crossing points for people resident within the circuit, to be usable by disabled persons. There was inadequate general provision, and no provision at all for wheelchairs or the elderly. He also makes the point, which I shall come to later, that noise level records are to be made available to the public. Mr. Torvell tells me that no measures were taken and no information was made 78 available, but that is not right because noise measurements were taken in the 1989 race. I do not know why they have not been made available.
I have in my file another letter from, I think, the chief executive's department to another citizen of Birmingham. It makes clear that noise measurements were taken in 1989 but that there was no intention to make them publicly available. Such availability was one of the 11 specific undertakings given to the Committee and repeated to the House by the hon. Member for Northfield. Mr. Torvell can speak for himself, but I am happy to make his letter available to hon. Members. He is a resident of Elmwood court in Pershore road. I shall not give the number of the house.
I should like to refer to another letter from an aggrieved citizen who lives virtually on the circuit. It was given to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Hodge Hill who was contacted last week by a resident in Wheeley's road, a Mr. Jim Berrow. He recited many points similar to those made by Mr. Torvell. In a letter dated 19 February he makes a specific complaint about advertising hoardings placed in totally unsuitable venues. He says that they are year-round eyesores, the revenues from which are set against the revenues for this weekend. If the billboards were making income for the city for the rest of the year, that would riot mess up the motor race accounts. Mr. Berrow says that the costs are spiralling and, generally speaking, the books are not being balanced other than by artificial accounting.
In my files for last year I have dozens of such letters. I have chosen those two because they are fresh and came into the hands of hon. Members in the last few days. They contain the mature thoughts of people who live on the circuit. In a postscript to his letter Mr. Torvell says that he wasa strong supporter of the road-race until I saw how the city council mismanage it and wallow in the … perks.I do not propose to go into the matter of perks because I do not think that there are many for the road race. I think he was making a point about no financial controls.
There were many representations from businesses. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Bevan) smiles. This is an important matter.
§ Mr. Rooker
I should be happy at some future date —but certainly not tonight—to discuss the hospitality accounts. I am more than happy to discuss what is available to hon. Members.
§ Mr. Rooker
I did not say that it was wrong. I said that I would not go into that but simply raised the bald point that was made in the letter.
I shall now deal with the businesses that are affected. There is no doubt that businesses gain, or, to put it more accurately, that some businesses gain. I shall give two brief examples. The first is in a letter that I received last September after last year's race. It was from the manager of the Wharf Beefeater Steak House and Travel Inn in Bridge street. It is a brand new building in the city centre 79 alongside the canal at Gas Street basin. I have not been inside the building but have seen it from a canal boat with my hon. Friends the Members for Erdington and for Hodge Hill. We were doing our bit to clean up the canals along the back streets of Birmingham. At that time I saw the building and thought, "Ah, that is where the letter came from." The letter is dated 2 September and states:As a new corner to the City, with an Hotel, Restaurant and Bars in the central area, I looked forward to the prospect of a welcome increase to my business over the Bank Holiday from the Super-Prix. Far from an increase, I rapidly discovered that apart from a few, well established adjacent businesses, my takings actually fell dramatically over the period. On Saturday evening there were licensees coming in looking to see who was doing the trade.Licensees in Birmingham were on a most peculiar pub crawl, because they were going from licensed premises to licensed premises to see to where the extra trade was going as a result of the super prix. The manager went on to say that there was no way in which the city centre could cope with a super prix.
§ Mr. Corbett
I understand exactly the point that my hon. Friend is making. For some reason the West Midlands police cone off the whole of the Bradford street area. Anybody who knows Birmingham knows that at weekends that is the best place in the city centre in which to park. One publican there put his tables outside, but because the area was coned off the police said, "Hey you, put the tables back inside." That is not the fault of the city council. Does my hon. Friend realise that West Midlands police dictates the number of officers? The police order about 600 officers and about 10 people a year are arrested for petty offences, such as picking pockets. My hon. Friend mentioned Silverstone, which hold about 500,000 people. Is he aware that just 32 police officers are present at Silverstone? That explains part of the cost.
§ Mr. Rooker
No one complains that the city council organises the number of police. I back the police on this. After the first or second race—I think that it was the second one which I visited—I wrote to the chief constable and asked him for a full report about the policing and about any problems that had occurred as a result of pubs being open all day. I also asked about pickpockets and so on. I have a letter which gives a clean bill of health and I am quite happy to make it available. I do not remember the date, but I think it is probably 1987. The reason that it is so peaceful is the decision of the police to police it in the way that they do.
§ Mr. Terry Davis
Is my hon. Friend trying to tell me that there are anything like 600 police officers involved in the Handsworth carnival? I can tell him that there are not.
§ Mr. Rooker
I do not want to go into detail. The letter from the assistant chief constable is dated 16 September 1987, after the 1987 race. My hon. Friend can read it. I back the police as the appropriate body of trained and experienced personnel to decide how a city centre function such as this should be policed.
There are problems for businesses. Unless a business is in the core area, it has a problem, as my hon. Friend the Member for Erdington admits in respect of the pub that he mentioned. In our last debate my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood raised the issue of Aston and Taylor, the newspaper distributors. She was under pressure of time 80 and received much barracking from hon. Members and in the time available justice was not done to the case that Aston and Taylor had made. That business has nothing to do with the super prix, it receives no spin-off, and it is not in that location because of the super prix. It is in purpose-built premises that were constructed about six years ago.
Aston and Taylor is an old company which was established in 1847 or 1848 and has a turnover of several million pounds a year. It is not a bucket shop operation, yet it has been extremely badly treated because of the super prix. There have been discussions about what has happened. I shall raise a couple of points that are relevant to other matters that I have mentioned. The company says that it wanted some changes in the legislation but also raises a bone of contention about the effect of the race. The company says:If the provisions of the 1985 Act were adhered to the Company would be able to conduct its business without too much difficulty but it is particularly concerned about the closure of roads for the times and periods set out in the Bill. The City Council have closed roads well outside the time limits of the 1985 Act, as early as 6 am and as late as 8 pm, by using other enactments, e.g. Town Police Clauses Act 1847.That Act is of the same age as the company concerned. In addition, the city has closed roads under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. In other words, there is other legislation that a body like the city council can use, in addition to the powers given to it by this House in respect of the operation of a road race, which can cause massive dislocation to companies. In this case Aston and Taylor makes it quite clear thatThe company does not derive any benefit from its proximity to the circuit.Referring to the Select Committee's recommendations, it says:Contrary to the Council's evidence, the Company was not approached to give evidence at the Select Committee hearing, nor were they visited for their views to be canvassed.That is a massive omission on the part of those responsible for canvassing opinion, putting this Bill together and making provision for amendments. It could be seen as a criticism of a Committee of this House. In any case, it is a major criticism by an important company whose business is badly affected. It is an important point because many people feel that there has been bad faith.
My hon. Friends and I have said that the financial restrictions are worthless. Many people might say that that is just a case of Members moaning and looking for a headline. That is not so. However, when people see that they themselves are affected by matters unrelated to the points of substance that we raise they say, "This is not fair. There's bad faith abroad here." That is important. The question of noise levels, which I gave as an example, certainly stands up to the test. A promise that was given to the Select committee, discussed with the residents and repeated to this House by the hon. Member for Northfield, as reported in columns 89 and 90 of the Official Report of 13 November 1989, could have been implemented for the 1989 race, but was not. People say that that is an example of bad faith, but then they say, "Perhaps all these other people making negative points are right. Perhaps it is true that there is a financial loophole, that there are no financial controls, that this could be really bad for the future." If hon. Members want to know why I claim to know that noise measurements were taken last year, I can tell them that I am simply quoting from a letter from the 81 environmental protection unit of the environmental services department. That letter, dated 14 September 1989, says:Monitoring was carried out this year purely as a pilot run in anticipation of any future undertaking, and there are no proposals to publish a report at this stage.The wordsin anticipation of any future undertakingsuggest that the undertakings are tied to the implementation of this Bill. But that was not the intention. We are not in a bargaining position like that. These were genuine undertakings offered by the city council to ease the problem for local people, yet local people say, "Bad faith."
Section 4 of the 1985 Act is replaced by clause 6 of this Bill. The section is being taken out and rewritten. As clause 6 is the subject of proposed amendments, I shall not go into detail at this stage, except to make a point that is worth putting on record as it will figure in our proceedings later. The section that is being taken out contains words that, in effect, entitle the councilto provide or arrange for the provision of all such services, facilities and things (including prizes) and do all such other acts as they may think necessary for that purpose.This has to do with the power to run a road race. Those words are so wide that it is impossible to see why the council persists in requiring an Act of Parliament with some controls on hours and times of day.
That brings me to a question that was put to me earlier by the hon. Member for Yardley. The words that I have just quoted have been thrown back at Birmingham citizens time and again by the city council when people have written in about something they regarded as being wrong. Perhaps the barriers had not been cleared away in time, or they had been erected too soon. "Outside the law," people say. The city council then throws their words back at them and says that, in effect, it can do what it likes. That is what the words in the legislation mean.
In particular, people have questioned the need for work to be carried out weeks, rather than days, in advance. Clause 3 provides the extra time that has been referred to —20 days before and 10 days after. If extra time is what is needed, why do we need words, such as those in clause 6, that give the council power to do anything it wants? I have here a letter to someone who has complained about this time limit. It says:However, the Act entitles the council, in making arrangements for the motor race, to do all these things. The council have a similar power to carry out such works as they think necessary or convenient for the purpose … It is this power which is being used.In other words, this Act is littered with extra powers that make the 20-day and 10-day provisions absolutely meaningless. Why are such provisions necessary when such words are being retained? That is my answer to the hon. Member for Yardley. The council appeared to insist on retaining these gateways so that it might do things at its own convenience, whatever the disruption to the citizens of Birmingham, whatever the rules provided for by the Act. That is what looks like bad faith.
§ Mr. Bevan
I do not want continually to interrupt the hon. Member, but I must point out that the notes that I have say that the dismantling of equipment should be carried out within 10 days, not 20 days. It is not, as the hon. Member said, an extension of the period; it is a reduction of the period and an extension of the hours from 8 am to 8 pm so that the work may be done more 82 extensively. The trouble that the hon. Member said had been caused by the time taken to remove these obstacles would no longer obtain.
§ Mr. Rooker
I accept that this is an attempt to meet a problem by changing the hours and the days, but there is no sanction in the event of that not being achieved; and it will not need to be achieved, because the words in the new section 4, which are in clause 6 of this Bill, enable the council toprovide or arrange for the provision of all such services and facilities and things … and do all such other acts"—all such other acts—as they may think necessary or convenient for that purpose.Of course, the purpose is the holding of a road race. So it will be possible to go outside those limits. My argument is that either we should put the limits in and mean them, and apply some legislative sanctions if they are not carried out, or we should leave the limits out and take out these words. Why should we leave a gaping gateway that will enable the council to say, "We have put these new limits in. That will shut the MPs up, and will make us look as though we are doing the job properly"? I think that that is unfair, and the citizens who have had those words thrown back at them think that it is unfair.
§ Mr. Roger King
I have heard what the hon. Gentleman said about how he interprets the Act of Parliament, and suppose that, taken at face value, it would be interpreted in that way. However, I think the hon. Gentleman will agree with me that, as the subject of an Act of Parliament. this matter has been considered very carefully by the Select Committee. If the city were found to be in hopeless and total breach of these requirements it would be a very serious thing indeed. I do not think that the city would willingly exceed the powers that this House, I hope, will give it.
§ Mr. Rooker
Yes, but there is nothing that the individual citizen of Birmingham can do about it. No citizen will take the council to court. The district auditor cannot be brought in. There is no redress for the citizen. If those words remain, that gateway, that massive legislation gap, will allow the city to do anything that it deems convenient or necessary for the purposes of the legislation. It will not need to take seriously the days and hours that are provided for. The city engineer's department made it clear to people who complained that it took the action that it did under the powers not of the 1985 Act but of other legislation. That is unfair, because the individual is given no redress.
As to finances, although I am not a lawyer, I know what I was told on the Floor of this House, and I understood it. The Ministers presumed that I understood their meaning. It is now clear that the city council, lawyers and accountants know that I understood what I was told concerning financial restrictions and probity, and in respect of my efforts to ensure that there was no massive financial loophole. They still know that that is my understanding, but they can top it out. They say, "We can get this through Parliament. No one will listen. They are just a few MPs, complaining. It will be OK. We'll roller-coast it through." I do not have to accept that. I find the council guilty and wanting in terms of the financial probity of the whole project.
§ Ms. Short
Does not my hon. Friend think that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) is being 83 naive, to put it mildly, in suggesting that the council will comply with the new legislation? All our experience is that the limit set in the 1985 Act—with which I believed, naively, the council would comply—has been breached every year.
§ Mr. Rooker
I accepted the 1985 Act in good faith. I saw no reason to question the undertakings that I received. When I read the Bill, I thought, "That's fine. I wish it well." In fact, that Act has been breached every year. Above all, each year there have been breaches of the financial controls.
§ Mr. Bevan
The hon. Gentleman makes certain allegations regarding lack of redress. That aspect must partly be dealt with by clause 19(1), (2), (3)(a), (b), (c) and (d) and all thereafter, over nearly two pages. Clause 19(1) provides:If any person entitled to an interest in premises suffers damage to or in respect of land or other loss in consequence of the restriction of access to those premises under section 5 (Closing of streets for motor races) of this Act the Council shall, subject to the provisions of this section, pay to such person compensation in respect of that damage or other loss.It then recites the circumstances in which compensation is payable to people who have a rightful grievance regarding the strict interpretation and removal of obstacles not being dealt with in regard to the time schedule therein. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman and any reasonable person would agree that the Bill contained myriad powers whereby the individual could take action, strictly in accordance with the legislation, if the council did not comply with the terms that the House was asked to agree in respect of the re-timetabling.
§ Mr. Rooker
The hon. Gentleman misses the point completely. It is a question of how one defines "an interest". People have an interest as businesses.
§ Mr. Rooker
I know that they are, but people also have a wider interest, as ratepayers and as citizens of the city. An individual citizen reading the restrictions in the Bill regarding the removal of barriers may realise that they have not been complied with, even if he lives in postal district B30, which is way outside the area immediately affected, He may not even travel to work through the circular.
Such a person may ask the council by what lawful authority the barriers were erected so long before the race. He would point that, as Parliament did not allow a period longer than 10 days, the Act appeared to have been breached. That is the kind of complaint that concerns me. There is no redress for a citizen making such a complaint, who will only receive a reply reciting all the gateway wording that I have twice put on the record. Nevertheless, such an individual has as much right as anyone else to be satisfied that an Act of Parliament is being complied with, in respect of its generalities, in the same way that any business or domestic ratepayer in the immediate area of the circuit is entitled to compensation if damage is caused to their property.
My next point alludes to the remarks of the hon. Member for Yardley. We are told that the race is good for publicity, as measured by newspaper column inches, minutes of television coverage, and so on.
§ Ms. Short
Before my hon. Friend leaves the subject of compensation, may I point out that, although it is to be the same under the new legislation as under the 1985 Act, the Land Compensation Act 1961 has been widely found to be unsuitable for making small local claims. It involves a costly and cumbersome procedure that is not widely understood. Many of my constituents who lost income from their businesses as a consequence of the race examined the possibility of claiming compensation, but found that the expense would be too great. Although it may look as though compensation is available, in practice the process is such that people do not bother, even though they suffer a loss of income.
§ Mr. Rooker
My hon. Friend is right. I omitted to mention the wider legal costs involved for someone with a wider grievance. It is not a question of reporting the matter for investigation at no cost, through the district auditor, for example. Anyone who complains has quoted back at him other wording from the 1985 Act, so naturally he says to himself, "This is a waste of time. What are the MPs doing? Why did Parliament even get involved? It is all a con." It is totally outwith the resources of most people to take the matter to court.
I return to the question of costs, mentioned by the hon. Member for Yardley. In one of the brief interventions that I was allowed to make before the closure on our previous debate, I made the point that there is also a social cost. We know that someone has put a value on the advantages of the race. That is how the financial fiddle has been worked. I do not mean that the councillors themselves have been involved in any personal financial fiddle, but to me the way the project is run is a fiddle. But that is not a legal term. Not all the true costs are entered on the other side of the account.
I refer, for example, to the social cost of delaying road traffic. In the 13 November debate, I pointed out that the costs of delay, over two or four weeks, as a consequence of the building and dismantling of the circuit was estimated at £140,000 in respect of cars alone, not including lorries. That was based on normal assumptions, conservatively low traffic-flow estimates, and Department of Transport information. To date, my claim has not been rebutted. That £140,000 is an add-on cost. It is a cost to society that cannot really be quantified. Nevertheless, we know that society paid out that sum of money. The delays meant that £140,000 of taxpayers' money disappeared in that way. That amount cannot be specifically quantified, but we know that it was a cost attributable to the Birmingham super prix.
§ Mr. Roger King
I have listened to what the hon. Gentleman has said about so-called social costs. He has mentioned the figure of £140,000. One accepts that public events—whether a milk race, a walkathon or a variety of things that take place on the public highway—will impinge on other road users. I think that that is agreed. So do roadworks, among other things. However, spread over 20 days and over the number of vehicles using the roads, the cost to the individual road user cannot amount to much more than a few pennies. That does not sound much to me. If one takes into account traffic flows in and out of Birmingham throughout the day spread over 20 days, the cost per individual road user will not be an astronomical sum.
§ Mr. Rooker
I am talking about the social costs—the costs to society. At the end of the day all those pennies, collected together, are paid for by taxpayers. If the hon. Member for Northfield has not learnt that lesson after all his years of service in this House, I am sorry for him. That enables me to understand why he can complain about some aspects of Labour council policy, which do not relate to this subject, and to support some of the crazy policies of the Government. Does he not make the connection between the crazy policies and the wider costs to society?
Someone has paid the £140,000 worth of social costs. We know that the money has been paid. Otherwise we would not have a road or a bridge building programme, and the Department of Transport would not do any road planning. The point is that those are developed because of measuring the cost, although one keeps the costs as low as possible.
My second to final point—there must be a word for that.
§ Mr. Rooker
My hon. Friend is more educated than I am. I shall probably not now make it my penultimate point, as I shall digress. Anyway, in relation to charges and concessions, I am upset about the Bill because I think it is another area where the Committee has not sufficiently considered the 1985 Act. Section 12 covers charges for admissions and concessions. The concessions are covered by the new clauses, and I shall not detail them because we can debate them at some other time.
There are no concessions in the 1985 Act—or rather there is a concession but it is discretionary on the council. It may give concessions of up to 10 per cent. for certain classes of people. It granted them one year but did not do it again. Then the council said that it would give a reduction for advance bookings rather than concessions. However, that is not the concession that we were seeking or were promised in 1985.
We know that attendance at the 1988 race on Sunday was made up of 31 per cent. people from Birmingham, 29 per cent. people from the midlands and 40 per cent. people from the rest of the country. On Monday the figures were 23 per cent. from Birmingham, 29 per cent. from the midlands and 48 per cent. from the rest of the country. One could argue that people in Birmingham had to go to work on Monday, but it was a bank holiday. Essentially the difference between Sunday and Monday was that the ticket price was vastly different and there was an 8 per cent. drop in attendance by Brummie people on Monday compared to Sunday. That is why we are asking for a concession as of right for Birmingham citizens.
We are told that it is difficult. I received a letter on 8 February 1989 from the chairperson of the road race committee which said that proof of residence was a problem to the organisers of the ticket sales. However, that problem has now been solved thanks to the stout work of the hon. Member for Northfield. He was a good bag-carrier and parliamentary private secretary to the poll tax Minister during consideration of the poll tax Bill. If the Government are looking for a scapegoat, I offer them the hon. Member for Northfield.
Proof of residence is no longer a problem with the poll tax. Every citizen who is registered for the tax Birmingham now has a number, and I see no reason why proof of registration for the poll tax cannot be used to get 86 a concession on tickets for the race. I claim that that is justified and required because so few of the public at the road race are Brummies, and on the day that the price goes up fewer Brummies attend. The reason for that must be the price of the tickets, and as long as Birmingham citizens are subsidising the road race out of their poll tax they should get as of right a concession on the ticket price.
§ Ms. Short
Is my hon. Friend aware of the report of the project co-ordinator to the general purposes committee on 17 January which recommended:In the light of representations made by Members of Parliament during discussions on the Birmingham City Council (No. 2) Bill a 'Birmingham discount' be reintroduced. This will be for Monday trackside tickets purchased in advance and show a saving of £1.00 on the normal in advance ticket price. To ease problems of identification they have to be bought in person.I thought that my hon. Friend might like to know that the pressure that we have put on has produced a result— they plan to reduce the increased ticket price by £1. Tickets are going up by £2 this year.
§ Mr. Rooker
One pound is not much, is it? I do not think that that is enough as a concession. It is not in the Bill, which says that concessions may be granted, but it does not give the right to grant a concession specifically to the citizens of Birmingham. This is one reason why I have tabled a new clause. The Bill lists qualified persons, but it does not include poll tax payers in Birmingham, and that is why that needs to be put into the Bill.
I look forward to seeing an amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Northfield during the later stages of the Bill.
§ Mr. Roger King
People know that I have advocated the merits of the community charge quite succinctly. The problem in Birmingham is that the wrong party is levying the charge at the moment. Next May things will be very different and the benefits will be obvious to the people of Birmingham.
When I read the amendment I found the idea of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) about the community charge attractive. I think that people in Birmingham should be able to come to the motor race with a privileged discount. I think that the wording of the Act is correct as it stands, and I am giving only a personal view, not a view on behalf of the promoters of the Bill, but the hon. Member's idea has some merits and might be worthy of examination in the future.
§ Mr. Rooker
I look forward to our debates on the amendments which can be changed if there is some problem with the wording. There is nothing to stop the promoters or the hon. Member for Northfield from tabling an amendment to the new clauses.
There is no need to play with words—[Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) wishes to intervene. No, he would not dare. It appears to be the promoters' intention to continue as before, except for the one issue just mentioned by the hon. Member for 87 Northfield. No financial controls will be exercised, and therefore section 14 of the 1985 Act is a dead duck. As long as that is the case, I shall oppose ratepayers and poll tax payers being asked to subsidise the race, which is why I shall try to stop the new clauses.
As a Member of Parliament representing the greatest number of poll tax payers in any constituency in Birmingham, I cannot do nothing or simply acquiesce to the council's requirements. It is not the fuction of Members of Parliament simply to rubber-stamp the council's requirements. Otherwise, there would be no purpose in our debates and procedures. What is planned in the Bill will be even worse if there is a grand prix, as I mentioned when I began my speech.
We have solid capital achievements in Birmingham—the national exhibition centre, the international convention centre and the forthcoming indoor sports hall. We are even doing more to deploy our fine heritage and to improve culture in the city, and the cost and expense of that is justifiable because it improves the capital assets and the human values of our city. The road race is a plughole down which ratepayers' and poll tax payers' money will be poured unless it is stopped.
§ Mr. Rooker
I shall be pleased to give way to the hon. Gentleman if he wishes to tell me how I can plug that hole with amendments.
§ Mr. King
I am not going to do that.
As the hon. Gentleman is well aware, our city is full of plugholes down which money can be poured. A recent example is the £25 million overspend at the national exhibition centre. That is big money. However we interpret the accounts—and the city council has only gone along with what the auditor has told it to do—not subsidising the motor race would involve, on the most pessimistic estimate, a reduction in the so-called Knowles tax from £406 to £405. That is if we assume that it is being subsidised; I maintain that it is not.
§ Mr. Rooker
I deplore such outrageous personalisation of the debate. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that the city council is under a legal obligation to set a budget. His scandalous remarks highlight what I said at the outset: this is the first known example of his supporting the city council, which in general he denigrates whenever he has the opportunity.
I am not here to debate the poll tax—I would be called to order if I did—but I must take up what the hon. Gentleman said about the national exhibition centre. The centre contributes to Birmingham's rate fund, and will do the same for poll tax payers; thus it constitutes an asset for the city and its people. It is deplorable that the hon. Gentleman should support proposals to privatise it.
I rest my case, and await the opportunity to debate the amendments and new clauses in due course.
§ Mr. David Gilroy Bevan (Birmingham, Yardley)
I join the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) in expressing sorrow at the absence of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell). He would have dearly loved to be with us, and we hope 88 that he will soon be restored to health. The hon. Gentleman claimed that he would be with us in spirit, and doubtless he is—but, I suggest, with Conservative Members rather than with the hon. Member for Perry Barr. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman's dearest wish would be for us to proceed with the Bill as quickly as possible and for it to be carried as soon as possible with the largest possible majority, as it was on Second Reading —by, I believe, 145 to 24. Those figures substantiate the tremendous backing for the Bill, not only in the House but on the city council, on which both parties supported it almost to a man—and woman. I suspect that it will always have majority support—in the House, on the council and among the residents of Ladywood.
§ Ms. Short
The hon. Gentleman knows nothing about the opinions of people in Ladywood, so I suggest that he withdraw that remark. I know very much better than he does what they are thinking and saying about the race.
Let us put the hon. Gentleman's cheap jibe aside for a moment, however. He mentioned the votes on Second Reading. Perhaps he would care to give us the party breakdown. Should he not put on record that the 145-strong majority consisted overwhelmingly of Conservative Members, and that the opponents of the Bill were Labour Members? As he probably knows, Birmingham Members who oppose the race have not sought to mobilise support from their colleagues in the parliamentary Labour party: it is the Conservative party organisation that has brought the Bill this far.
§ Mr. Bevan
That would be extraordinary if it were true, because both parties were represented in the vote on Second Reading. Indeed, the Labour-controlled Birmingham city council requested that the Bill be passed —an example honourably followed by most of the Labour Members who were present at our last debate, as I was.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) tried to suggest that residents of the circuit area and its surroundings do not want the race, but that is entirely unsubstantiated and unproven. The promoter's arguments that local people want the race, however, are substantiated and proven—the many polls that have been carried out have produced an overwhelmingly favourable result. If anyone should withdraw remarks that are without foundation, I suggest that it is the hon. Lady.
§ Ms. Short
The hon. Gentleman is beginning to make me extremely angry. If he claims to know more than I do about the views of people who live near the track in Ladywood, everyone in Birmingham who knows anything about the matter will join me in laughing at him. The residents have carried out their own polls, which have been cited in previous debates and which contradict the claims of the city council. If I remember rightly, in our last debate the hon. Gentleman himself read out the result of such a poll. It showed that—according to the city council's figures, and given the sample of residents who replied to the questions that it asked—nearly half opposed the holding of a four-day event.
§ Mr. Bevan
Certainly I read out the result of the poll, which showed a clear and substantial majority in favour of 89 the race. Furthermore, the amendments which have been diligently passed—they were read out by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) so I will not repeat them—would considerably benefit the hon. Lady's constituents by giving them additional rights and powers. They would also protect the rights and powers of those who can take action under the compensation laws, and the business people involved. If the hon. Lady tried to resist the Bill's progress, she would ensure that the measures that the amendments would build into it would not be backed, and I am surprised that she should take such an attitude.
I remind the hon. Lady that the formulation of the Bill has taken a long time. It was some 20 years ago that I first voted in its favour in the then city council of Birmingham. We lost it then, but I remember that Sir Richard Knowles —in one of his first speeches on the council—spoke movingly in its support, and I know that he has not changed his mind. He wants the Bill to be passed and to become law. I repeat that the city council, hon. Members and the people of the city of Birmingham want the Bill to be passed.
§ Mr. Rooker
The hon. Gentleman was an experienced councillor. I believe that he served for 20 years.
§ Mr. Rooker
The hon. Gentleman also has his own business. What does he think about the financial probity of section 14 of the 1985 Act? Section 14 was intended to provide a safety net which would not lead to a massive call on city resources, but it is not working—there is a loophole. Does the hon. Gentleman have a view about that? If so, it would help if he shared it with the House.
§ Mr. Bevan
I was a Member of Parliament, as was the hon. Member for Perry Barr, when the Birmingham City Council (No. 1) Bill was passed. I was satisfied with the provisions that were written into it. However, progress is being impeded. The Select Committee considered a series of amendments which it considered should be incorporated in the Bill. They deal with that aspect of the matter. The amendments deal to my complete satisfaction with whatever protection is necessary.
§ Mr. Terry Davis
The hon. Gentleman has referred to the amendments which have been made to the Bill. He says that they deal with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker). Will he explain which amendment deals with the loophole in section 14 of the 1985 Act which has been exploited? If he cannot find such an amendment—I do not think that he can—will he give us the benefit of his views instead of evading my hon. Friend's question? Why does he condone going back on the assurance given by Sir Reginald Eyre in 1985?
§ Mr. Bevan
The purpose behind consideration of the amendments is, regrettably, not just to debate them but to delay progress of the Bill. One result for the delay would be that the reforms to which the amendments would lead could not be incorporated in time for this year's race. Unless a tight timetable is followed, it will be impossible to incorporate them in the Bill, with the result that the benefit that would have been gained from them will be lost.
§ Mr. Davis
The hon. Gentleman has not answered the question put to him by my right hon. Friend the Member 90 for Perry Barr. He has raised a separate issue to which we shall return later—which of the amendments will not be available to the city council for this year's race if the Bill is not passed. Many of the amendments made in Committee could have been observed by the city council during last year's race, had it had a mind so to do, but most or all of them were not observed. Before we deal with that point, however, will the hon. Gentleman please answer the point put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr? How does he defend the breaching of the assurance given by Sir Reginald Eyre on behalf of all the parties on the city council regarding the financial arrangements for the race?
§ Mr. Bevan
The hon. Gentleman knows the answer—the auditors demanded it. If the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis) and his hon. Friends continue to oppose the Bill, the amendments will not be incorporated in the Bill in time for this year's race. Furthermore, it is doubtful whether any of them can be incorporated if the proceedings are delayed unreasonably. I am certain that that is the hon. Gentleman's intention.
§ Mr. Davis
If the hon. Gentleman intends to follow the line adopted by his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) and blame the auditors for the city council's failure to observe the assurances that were given, will he deal with a point made in a letter from Price Waterhouse, which the hon. Member for Northfield partially quoted on Second Reading? The auditors said:The statement … is not correct."—that is, that the assurance should be broken and the preamble used to justify the subsidy. One must also take note of what I said on Second Reading—which has not been denied—that I received a message from Price Waterhouse to the effect thatPrice Waterhouse give advice to the city as well as audit the city s they do with all their clients.The message then said:I am pretty certain that I did not suggest … that the preamble of the 1985 Act should be used to justify this credit to the road race account."—[Official Report, 18 April 1989; Vol. 151, c. 268.]The city auditor, apart from saying that he did not instruct the city council, also says that he does not think that he even suggested it.
§ Mr. Bevan
That was one of the main causes for reconsideration. The Bill has been commented on in detail and the amendments have been incorporated in the Bill.
Reference was made to the socio-economic disbenefit for lorries. The benefits for the citizens of Birmingham are beginning to become clear. The Bill has a great part to play in making the city's name known widely throughout the world. It would encourage substantial numbers of tourists to visit the city. Tourists bring about £1 billion to the west midlands each year. The Bill's provisions would bring more tourists to the city. We need to attract people to Birmingham in the most reasonable way that can be found. Birmingham is fast becoming one of the most attractive cities in Europe. It is well sited and is earning substantial sums of money for the city because people wish to visit it.
It would be wrong to impede the progress of the Bill when it is clear that the vast majority of the people of Birmingham want it to become law. The city council, with all-party support, wants the Bill. Local business wants the 91 race. The media want the race. Both ITV and the BBC will cover the event this year. The opponents of the race and of the Bill are a small minority.
§ Mr. Rooker
The hon. Gentleman has referred to all those who, he says, wants the Bill. Why, therefore, do the media not pay for it? Both the press and television have a vested interest in the race. It is an event. The media exist to report events and to cream off advertising from them, so why should the poll tax payers of Birmingham fund an event for the media? The hon. Gentleman must see the other side of the argument. I have no interest to declare other than as a Member of Parliament representing people who support and oppose the Bill, but I am determined to ensure that the idea that the poll tax payers should subsidise the road race is a non-starter.
The House provided the power to run the race for five years so long as it did not make a loss. That is the nub of the issue. With all due respect to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Bevan), in about four attempts he did not say whether he agreed with that proviso. Does he agree that the race should break even over eight years or the power be lost? By his silence he is saying that the council decides, for ever more and at whatever expense, that a media event can be foisted on the citizens of Birmingham who will have to pay for it.
§ Mr. Bevan
That is absolute nonsense, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. I remind him that the Bill was promoted by a council of his own political complexion, with a Labour majority, as was the original Bill. The Labour council decided that an organisation within the city council or promoted as a result of the city council should be responsible for the running and promotion of the Bill. It was not the concept of my party; had it fallen to us to promote it, it might well have been promoted within the private sector, but it is not and I plead with the hon. Gentleman not to impede those who seek to promote the Bill on behalf of the majority within the city but to allow them to get on with the job.
§ Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)
The most generous thing that I can say about the speech by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Bevan) is that he has not attended in detail to the provisions of this Bill, the previous Bill or the matters we are discussing. He denied that it was suggested that the race should take place at whatever expense, yet we know that the framework in the previous Bill to control expense—which has been breached and is a cause of great anger to me and my hon. Friends —has been wiped out in the Bill that we are considering today.
The Bill gives powers to run a four-day event at whatever expense with no control and no constraint whatever. That is the case whether the hon. Gentleman likes it or not. Oddly, having told us how all shades of public opinion support the race, he went on to say that the Bill is being promoted by a Labour council. It is true that Labour is in control of the city of Birmingham as the people of Birmingham were wise enough to appreciate that they would get better care and support from a Labour council than from any other. However, the Bill has support and dissent from both parties on the city council. 92 The hon. Gentleman should admit that. Recently the leader of the Tory group on the city council has started expressing doubts in the local papers. That is probably because the tide of public opinion is moving well away from the Bill. He is starting to say that perhaps the road race should be reconsidered; perhaps it should not be funded by the council but handed over to a private company. I know that only because it has appeared in local papers on a number of occasions.
The hon. Member for Yardley pretended that that was the position adopted by Conservative members of Birmingham city council throughout. That is simply false; it is a new idea. His colleagues on Birmingham city council were wise enough to pick up the fact that public opinion is rapidly moving against the race and are beginning to think about whether it would be better run by a private company. That is an interesting argument. Had a private company attempted to run the race, it would have closed down long ago as the race cannot even cover its costs let alone make a profit.
The hon. Gentleman used an argument about the race that has been used a number of times—that it gives glory to Birmingham throughout the world. That argument makes me squirm. I am proud of my city. The industrial revolution started in Birmingham and the first factories developed in Factory road in the Ladywood constituency. Certainly the city council has not erected any memorial to those enormous events. The steam engine was adapted for use commercially and in manufacturing and that helped to develop the industrial revolution. All those things happened in Birmingham. Birmingham is the second city of Britain; it has an enormous pride and a history of which we could boast throughout the world.
Yet here we have a two-day race taking place in the middle of the city around a residential area. It is deeply unpopular with the people who live there, it disrupts traffic going in and out of the city for weeks on either side of the race and it cannot cover the costs. The hon. Gentleman thinks so little of our city that he thinks that that would give it any glory—running a two-day race that cannot cover its costs. Most people in Birmingham know it is a joke, but the hon. Gentleman appears not to realise that.
§ Mr. Bevan
The hon. Lady has been associated with Birmingham for much less time than I have. During my entire life which has been spent in Birmingham I have admired and helped my city in whatever way I could. I concede, and I should have thought that the hon. Lady would concede, that the race can make the city attractive in another way, adding to tourism and increasing its income. If she cannot, she has a terrible blind spot.
§ Ms. Short
The hon. Gentleman has made a very grave allegation against me—he has accused me of being younger than he is. I do not know whether I should apologise for the fact that I have been associated with Birmingham for a shorter time than the hon. Gentleman, assuming that the hon. Gentleman was born and grew up in Birmingham.
§ Ms. Short
That does not make for a very interesting debate, although we should consider at what point one's contribution to the city might decline with age.
The hon. Gentleman said that ITV and the BBC intend to cover the race this year. That is interesting, because last year there was a real danger that Central was not going to cover the race. It was such a failure it was not thought to be worthwhile and some financial arrangements were made to induce Central to televise the race, such was its fame and glory throughout the world.
The Bill should not be considered further. I was disappointed at the outcome of its consideration in Committee. It is a widely held view that the private Bill procedure in the House needs to be reviewed as it is deeply unsatisfactory. When a public Bill is considered in Committee, we seek to put on the Committee those hon. Members who have spoken on Second Reading and have some knowledge of and interest and expertise in the matters contained in the Bill because the Committee stage is about scrutiny of detail and one wants interested people who bring some expertise to the Committee. On private Bills we require hon. Members who know absolutely nothing about the subject matter or the area concerned to sit on a Committee to consider the Bill in detail. That is an extremely bad procedure which is increasingly widely criticised and is exemplified by the Committee stage of this Bill.
I would not criticise any individual hon. Members who served on that Committee, but if I were to have to consider some affair involving the people of Mansfield, for example, I would consider myself in a poor position to do so as I have no continuing relationship with the people of Mansfield and would not be able to take their views into account. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) did the best job he could in Committee, but the procedures of the House and the requirement that hon. Members considering private Bills in Committee should have no contact with the area or the subject matter of the Bill mean that inevitably the quality of that consideration will be limited.
I am disappointed with the outcome of the Committee stage. It led to recommendations on how the race would be better run and on how residents would be more sensitively considered, of which I approve. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) has accepted those undertakings on behalf of the promoters, but the legislative requirements of the previous Bill have not been complied with. Matters such as the noise of erecting barriers are of enormous importance to local residents. All the rules that were laid down have been breached. People have been kept up all night by horrendous noise days before the race is due to take place.
Given that the legal requirements of the previous Bill were breached, I am sad to say that I do not feel comforted or assured that the undertakings recommended by the Committee will be complied with. I am sure that the hon. Member for Northfield said in good faith that they will be, but I have no confidence that that will happen.
§ Mr. Rooker
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Through her, I should like to make a point to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King). He put on the record the undertakings given by the promoters in the full knowledge that Sir Reginald Eyre did the same on the previous Bill. Is he certain that he is not being used? If Sir Reginald Eyre were able to participate in our 94 proceedings, it would be interesting to see how he would react to the previous undertakings not being complied with. This is a serious matter—it certainly is not something we should take lightly. I hope that the hon. Member for Northfield will not take it lightly, because he will have to live with its consequences.
§ Ms. Short
My hon. Friend is right. If we return to this matter because the city council wants to extend its powers in the future—given its track record, it may wish to do so —the odds are that the hon. Member for Northfield will no longer be a Member of Parliament. He may therefore end up in exactly the same position as Sir Reginald Eyre, who in good faith said, "It is not my wish or the wish of the promoters of the Bill that it should cost the ratepayers of Birmingham a penny." I believed that undertaking and thought that my hon. Friends and I had done a good job in improving the Bill. I am shocked that the undertakings that he gave were meaningless and have been so deeply breached.
§ Mr. Roger King
The hon. Lady will agree that setting up the super prix, with all the engineering work, public relations and infrastructure required for such an event, requires quite a learning curve, to use modern jargon. The city has done its level best to stage the event with the minimum of inconvenience to the local community. There is no doubt that there has been inconvenience. There has been a race around Monaco for 40 years, and the authorities probably got it right many years ago, but what the city council has done in a short time is creditworthy.
It is accepted that, in the light of experience, some changes are necessary. I spoke with our former colleague, Sir Reginald Eyre, on Thursday evening. He endorsed the necessity and urgency of the race for Birmingham's Heartlands and for the other areas of the city that need redevelopment. He said, "It is true that we have learned from experience." That is why we brought forward the Bill and why the city has given commitments on the conduct of the race. I do not run the motor race or supervise the work force; that is the job of city officers, who are accountable to city councillors and hon. Members. I understand from their communications with me that they intend to use their best endeavours to carry out to the letter the requirements stipulated in the Bill.
§ Ms. Short
Officials of Birmingham city council are not accountable to hon. Members. I am sure that the hon. Member for Northfield gave that undertaking in good faith, but officials will not be accountable to him, unless, when he loses his seat, he stands for election to Birmingham city council and makes them acccountable and pursues any breach of the undertakings.
My hon. Friends and I accept that there is a learning curve, which is why we were keen, when setting the original structure for financial accountability, not to require the race to break even in the first or second year. A new event takes time to get going, which is why we thought that five years would provide sufficient evidence of whether it would work. Experience so far shows that it cannot cover its costs.
I visited my constituents during last year's race and experienced the horrendous noise of it. Despite the council saying that it would tackle the problems of the erection of barriers and the inconvenience to local people, my constituents believe that there has been no improvement, 95 that the race is outrageous and that the council does not bother to listen to local people. Simple things could be done that would lessen the irritation of the race.
The hon. Member for Northfield mentioned Sir Reginald Eyre, whom I see occasionally on trains between London and Birmingham. He is not present to give his views, but he originally said that the race should not cost the ratepayers of Birmingham anything. He did not say, "But they will not mind paying £500,000 a year for so-called advertising." The undertakings that he gave have been breached. The hon. Member for Northfield reported him as saying that the race is essential for the future of Heartlands. I find that an improbable statement for him to make, and when I next see him I shall ask whether he made it.
§ Mr. Terry Davis
Sir Reginald Eyre's name has been bandied about and was raised by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King). My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) may like to know that I have discussed the race with Sir Reginald Eyre. If I catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall give testimony contrary to that given by the hon. Member for Northfield.
I intervened on my hon. Friend's factual speech to remind her of two points. First, she rightly said that we did not ask the council to make a profit or to break even within a year or two, but it said that it would do so within three years. My hon. Friends and I wanted to be generous. We said, "You may miss your target by £10, £15, £100 or £500, and we should not want you to be compelled, for such a small amount of money, to stop the road race. Let us make it five years, which will be plenty of time." It said, "Thank you very much. That is very generous, constructive and helpful." We were trying to help the city council. Sir Reginald Eyre at least appreciated that point.
Secondly, my hon. Friend said that the city council and Sir Reginald Eyre stated that there had been an improvement. One other person said that adding clause 14 to the Bill was a big improvement—the hon. Member for Northfield, who said so on local radio.
§ Ms. Short
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As he spoke, I remembered that we started with a three-year break-even point. I remember the fantastic figures announced when the Bill was first suggested—the number of people who would watch the race, the amount of money that would be made—and the suggestions that the race would fund improvements to all the rotten housing stock in which many of my constituents live. It was going to be the most profitable operation that had ever been heard of.
We did not want to be unhelpful, but we were sceptical about some of the leaflets, projections, public relations exercises and hype—which, no doubt, cost a lot of money. We could have tabled an amendment to hold the council to its projections on the profitability of the road race, but we asked only that it cover its costs, and it has not done so. That is a damning indictment of the Bill.
I explained why the Committee proceedings on private Members' Bills were deeply unsatisfactory and why we needed to review the procedures. I said that, although the undertakings recommended by the Committee and accepted by the Bill's promoters were in themselves 96 worthy, I was not confident that they would be complied with, given our experience of the first Bill and the fact that the legal requirements were not met.
The Committee stage was a deep disappointment also because the Committee failed to consider the costs of the race. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) will say something about those matters. The disappointment and anger of my colleagues and people in Birmingham go beyond the people of Ladywood, who are annoyed about the disruption to their lives on a personal level. There is concern about the lack of a firm programme of financial control for the race.
Returning to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis), under an amendment to the first Bill, the powers to run the race were to lapse if it did not cover its costs in five years. That amendment was welcomed by everyone. Everyone—including the hon. Member for Northfield on radio—said that it showed that the procedures were helpful and good, that it was a better Bill and that they wanted those financial constraints. If it was such a good amendment, why was it not incorporated in the second Bill? Why is there no framework under which the race has to break even and cover its costs or the power to run the race will lapse?
I am sorry to say this, but it must be put on the record. An offer was made to us: "Drop the opposition and we will give you a financial constraint. If you will not agree to shut up, let the Bill proceed and not raise any other points, we will not give you a financial constraint." That is the wrong way to do business. It is a matter not just of the disruption that will be caused to the people living in the area, especially those in Ladywood. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) said, it is a plug hole. The fact that it costs too much for the people of Birmingham is of concern to all the people of Birmingham.
The people of Birmingham will soon have to pay far too much in poll tax because of the Government's duplicity in setting a figure that cannot be reached anywhere in the country, except where they make special arrangements—funny places such as Westminster. The Government try to pretend that it is the fault of Birmingham city council that the poll tax has been set at £400, but the same thing is happening throughout the country in many Tory areas where councils cannot meet the Government's poll tax projections.
The Committee stage was a grave disappointment because of its failure to deal with the costs of the road race, the inaccuracy of the accounts and the way in which the intentions behind clause 14 had been undermined. For those reasons alone, the Bill should not be further considered. In responding to the speech of the hon. Member for Yardley, I said that opinion in Birmingham was moving firmly against the race. I have a few cuttings of letters to local newspapers that provide evidence. In a letter written on 15 February—my birthday, as a matter of fact—Mrs. Iris Worsley of Goodge street, Highgate asks:Can Sir Richard Knowles tell me and all Birmingham Poll Tax payers what percentage of the £406 per head he intends to waste again on this year's Super Prix?It is interesting to note that the sponsor of the Bill failed to answer that question. The people of Birmingham will be 97 interested to hear that answer. The hon. Member for Northfield tells us that it will cost each and every one of them£1, but we shall have to examine the poll tax figure.
A letter appeared in the Birmingham Evening Mail on 13 February 1990 from Mrs. J. I. Holborn of Grosvenor road in Harborne, who is also concerned about the community charge:The Super Prix must be abandoned".That was one of her recommendations for reducing the community charge. Another interesting letter appeared in the Birmingham Evening Mail on 31 January 1990. It was from Dr. B. S. Smith FRCP, consultant physician, and it concerned the threat to the general hospital in Birmingham. Everyone from Birmingham knows that that matter causes great concern and gives rise to intense passion—perhaps even more than the super prix. Dr. Smith wrote to defend Sir James Ackers and felt that much of the criticism had been unfair. Hon. Members may remember the letter. It was extremely unusual to find such a letter among all the letters from Birmingham residents who passionately wanted the hospital to be kept——
§ Ms. Short
The hon. Member for Yardley seems to have added up the letters in support of the plans for the general hospital and says that there were four. Although Dr. Smith was out of line with public opinion on the matter of that hospital, he said in his letter:There is a certain irony that the City Fathers can organise an event which blocks off the Bristol Road for several days —merely so that a few vehicles can travel round and round in circles at high speed. Yet, the same establishment cannot provide year round convenient and rapid access via the Bristol Road (or some alternative route) to the Selly Oak and Queen Elizabeth sites.Clearly Dr. Smith thinks that the road race is a bit of a joke and he suggests that the city fathers might do better to organise transport systems to the Queen Elizabeth hospital. I do not know about the hon. Member for Northfield, but I know that most Birmingham Members would disagree with Dr. Smith, and would wish to retain the general hospital, although we would wish it to be refurbished and would be willing to consider parts of it being put to different use.
§ Ms. Short
It is nice to know that the hon. Gentleman and I agree on something.
I was referring to the tide of public opinion and to recent letters in the local press. In the Birmingham Post on Friday 17 November appeared a letter from Ruth M. Naish of Constance road, Birmingham 5. She said that she agreed with my hon. Friends the Members for Perry Barr and for Hodge Hill and me about the road race and said that she had been angered by the comment made by Reg Hales of Four Oaks, who had apparently said that we should stop our "carping and moaning". That rather elegant phrase was aimed at my hon. Friends and me.
Ruth M. Naish writes of Reg Hales:What does he know about it? His consituents live far enough away from the track of the road race to have any conception of the feeling there is against it by those of us who live on my side of the city (Birmingham 5) though of course, all Birmingham residents will be forced to pay for it, directly or indirectly. I can't help wondering how many of the 152 98 MPs who voted for the Super Prix know anyone who lives in South Birmingham, let alone live there themselves. What right do they have to legislate for our lives?That is something of an answer to the hon. Member for Northfield who boasted about the number of hon. Members who voted for the Bill on Second Reading. It is interesting to examine who voted for the Bill on Second Reading. It was quite obvious from the vote that the Government had a formal arrangement to ensure that the Bill was carried—that there was a closure and that there were at least 100 supporters here. For example, a number of Ministers voted and, as I said last time I spoke, the Chief Whip came into the Chamber while the hon. Member for Northfield was on his feet and his speech was abruptly curtailed. It was obvious that informally the Government were organising the vote to pass the road race Bill. Given that that was the case, it is misleading to claim that hon. Members who voted in its favour had listened to the arguments and were persuaded that the race was good for Birmingham, rather than that there was some hackish organisation of the vote for whatever questionable reasons by the Tory leadership.
The hon. Lady should know that it is not just her female perspicacity that enabled her alone to recognise instantly what the Chief Whip was up to. It was obvious to everybody. I was asked to conclude quickly to allow another Labour Member to speak as that was essential. That gesture allowed the hon. Members for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) and for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis) to speak. Those who voted for the Bill are well aware of the views of the people in the south of Birmingham. I can guarantee that they are overwhelmingly in favour of the race. Reg Hales lives in the very road next to the park through which the RAC rally goes through Sutton Coldfield. We watch it when it is in Sutton park.
§ Ms. Short
That is extremely interesting, but Ruth M Naish is not talking about the RAC rally. I do not have a view about the RAC rally that goes through Sutton park. I am not aware of its existence. We are not discussing that today. The fact that Reg Hales goes to the RAC rally is neither here nor there.
§ Ms. Short
I am sorry, but that is not what I said. I shall quote again from the letter of Ruth M. Naish because she should not be misrepresented. She said of Reg Hales:What does he know about it? His constituents live far enough away from the track of the road race to have any conception of the feeling there is against it by those of us who live on my side of the city (Birmingham 5) though of course, all Birmingham residents will be forced to pay for it, directly or indirectly.She did not say and I would not dream of saying that Reg Hales knows nothing about road racing. I am well aware that the hon. Member for Northfield is keen on it. That makes his motive for promoting the Bill questionable. It is his hobby. Fine. He enjoys it and spends his time on it. Fine. He is trying to inflict on my constituents this wretched, expensive, disruptive race so that he and his friends can take pleasure at the expense of my constituents. For all I know, Reg Hales may go with the hon. Gentleman to every racing event. That is not in question, but what is in question is that he lives a long way 99 from the track. Ruth M. Naish is saying that it is clear from what he says that Reg Hales has no concept of how the people who live near the track feel about it.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)
Because of our procedures on these Bills, few hon. Members know anything about the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) criticised the Committee, but at least it visited the area. I could not go on the visit but I went later, walked round the area and formed my opinion. Hon. Members who come from Birmingham understand the area and one or two hon. Members may have been to the road race and formed attitudes from that experience. Otherwise, we are very much in the dark and are acting on the myth that hon. Members have poured over the Committee's report on its detailed investigations. There is something problematic about our procedures. The House should have at least sufficient hon. Members present to consider the points that are raised on behalf of constituents in the area whose daily lives will be affected by the Bill.
§ Ms. Short
When I criticised the outcome of the Committee stage, and said that I did not think that the Bill should be given time for further consideration, I should have made it clear that it was a criticism not of the individuals concerned, who did the best job that they could, but of the procedures of the House for dealing with private Bills. The requirement that people who have no connection with the area concerned should deal with the Bill is nonsense. The Committee stage and the good work of the individuals concerned is blemished by the broad structures within which they have to work.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes
Under our present procedures, however conscientious people are, and even though they may miss some procedural tricks, it is a case of the blind leading the blind. We need different procedures to ensure that investigations take place in the Birmingham area and that account is taken of the views expressed.
§ Mr. Rooker
My hon. Friend is quite right. I looked today at the Standing Orders for private business, which are twice the size of the Standing Orders for public business. It is ludicrous that Birmingham Members were prevented from participating in the Committee stage. It is a throwback. Private Bills used to relate only to the building of roads and canals. At that time, hon. Members were up to their necks in financial interests, and they were rightly prevented from participating in the Committee stages. We have no vested interest whatsoever. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) has a vested interest—it may not be financial—yet he can sponsor the Bill on behalf of its promoters. That is a paradox in itself.
I will make one further point concerning what my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) said about the Second Reading of the Bill. Let us not beat about the bush. If my memory serves me correctly, you were in the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on 100 18 April. Of course, we do not hear private conversations, but the only reason that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Bevan) was told to sit down and let me speak for seven minutes was that the occupant of the Chair—I can put myself in his position—had made it clear that he would not accept a closure motion unless an alternative view was put. On reflection, it was stupid of me to speak. The hon. Member for Yardley gave way only so that I could have a few minutes to satisfy the balance of the argument, and then the closure was accepted. The only reason that happened was that the hon. Gentleman had a visit from his Chief Whip.
§ Ms. Short
It is a strong convention that we never say on the Floor of the House what we have been told in informal discussions with the Chair.
My hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr was generous when he praised the way that the hon. Member for Northfield had ably promoted the Bill. The hon. Member for Northfield spoke at some length on that occasion and that called into question whether a closure would be granted, because of the unbalance that it caused in the debate. Some smart footwork had to be done. There was a change of mind about whether a closure should be granted by some of the powers that be, and that might be related to the hon. Member for Yardley having his speech foreshortened. I will never forget the way that he virtually fell on the floor when his Chief Whip moved up the stairs in the middle of the Gangway, before he had even heard what the message was. That tells us something about the modern-day Conservative party and the degree of democracy and consultation with which it works. That incident is imprinted on my brain as a little cameo which I will never forget.
I shall refer to recent letters that appeared in the local press about the super prix, which demonstrate a swell of opinion away from that race. The biggest measure of that change is the shift of opinion by the Conservative party and its leadership on the city council. On this matter, unlike so many others, it seems able to read the tide of public opinion. The Government may have had that skill at one time, but they have lost it in recent months.
The Birmingham Evening Mail of Friday 17 November included a letter by Hugh H. Williams of Birmingham 31. He said that he gathered that the super prix was being extended, that he was neither for nor against the event, but that he wanted to make a serious suggestion. He wrote:As it is the citizens of this city who underwrite the losses and not Halfords, could we not re-name the event and delete Halfords in the publicity blurb? Why not simply Birmingham Super Prix?Mr. Williams knows that it costs money and that the citizens have to pay for it. He does not believe that Halfords should get the credit for the costs to those citizens.
Another letter which appeared on Friday 17 November came from Richard Munro of King's Heath. He said that he wastired of reading about the Super Prix"—he will be even more tired tomorrow I am afraid.It is a pity the money spent on this expensive and disruptive frivolity was not invested in improving the city's appalling traffic conditions … I am also irritated"—I wonder whether the hon. Members for Northfield and for Yardley recognise the name Richard Munro.
§ Ms. Short
Mr. Munro said in his letter:I am also irritated by the impression given by Parliamentary reports that Conservatives favour the Super Prix.I am the secretary of a Ward Conservative Association and I for one disassociate myself from the Super Prix.Birmingham has other attractions for visitors and residents which do not cause inconvenience to those living near them.There seems to be a difference of opinion in all parties on the council about this matter. Local opinion is opposed to the race and across the city the tide of public opinion is increasingly moving against it.When those who are trying to promote the Bill for the city council are irritated by the criticisms of my hon. Friends the Members for Perry Barr and for Hodge Hill and myself they constantly try to make a distinction between us. They say that they understand why I should be opposed to the race because, by implication, they know that my constituents hate it. They say that they expect me to voice such an opinion, but they find it intolerable that my hon. Friends the Members for Perry Barr and for Hodge Hill should be against the race. By advancing such an argument it is clear that the powers that be in the city council recognise that the race is deeply unpopular with the people who must live with it. They think that it is okay for me to speak against it because they know that I am the representative of those people. That is an intolerable attitude. If the race is unbearable to those who must live with it, it is not good enough. We should not have road races in residential areas. We should not have races that make it impossible for people to hear themselves think, for elderly people to get in and out to do their shopping or to be visited by their relatives.
People who want to go to the races should attend purpose-built tracks. The hon. Member for Northfield knows better than I where such tracks can be found. I believe that on the grounds of safety, efficiency and disruption, races should take place on such tracks. There is no question but that the existing race causes enormous disruption and noise to the local people.
§ Mr. Rooker
I want to reinforce what my hon. Friend has said about the almost subliminal attempt to separate the two representatives of the northern, outer-city suburbs from my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis) who represents the other side of the city centre. It is disingenuous to suggest that the road has nothing to do with my hon. Friend the Member for Hodge Hill and me. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) is at one with us about the Bill, but, because of his other duties, he is unable to participate in our debate.
When we started to deploy the financial argument the look of horror on the face of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight)—I regret that she has left the Chamber, but this is not an attack on her —was telling. She also has constituents who are involved. There is evidence from some reports that I have read that she has started seriously to question the financial arrangements of the race. [Interruption.] It is no good the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Bevan) shaking his head. I could see the hon. Lady's face and he could not. It reflected the horror as the financial effects started to dawn on Conservatives Members who, by and large, with the exception of the two who are in the Chamber, have not studied the matter.
§ Ms. Short
My hon. Friend is right. I should like to make it clear that I think that all decent democrats should seriously take account of the views of the people who live in the area where the race is run. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and I oppose the race because our two constituencies are affected by it. Given the political sub-alliances across the Birmingham, it may be a slight surprise that the leader of the Labour group on the city council is on one side of the argument and my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook is on the other. It is notable that the Members of Parliament representing the two constituencies in which the race was run are opposed to the race. All good democrats should listen to them and the people who live in those two constituencies and around the road race.
My hon. Friends the Members for Hodge Hill and for Perry Barr are to be congratulated on listening to and caring about the views of people whose lives are disrupted by the road race. Members of Parliament for other areas of the city should have more respect for local people.
§ Mr. Corbett
I know that my hon. Friend will not want this both ways. A few moments ago she was saying that any of us, as Members of Parliament in the city, have the right to take a view on the road race, whether we and our constituents are near to or a long way from the track. She keeps asserting that the majority of the people in her constituency and, perhaps by implication, in the city go to the road race. Is she also aware that at least one opinion poll showed that the road race enjoys popular support? That does not do away with the objectors, but it shows that the majority of the citizens of Birmingham are in favour of the road race.
§ Ms. Short
I am aware of the polling and we discussed it earlier today—perhaps my hon. Friend was not here. The result of the last poll was not sent to all of us. However, following a reference to it by the hon. Member for Yardley during, I think, the debate on Second Reading, I wrote to the leader of the city council and obtained copies of the poll results. My hon. Friend the Member for Erdington will know that, with all polls, it is possible to construct samples and questions to produce different results so that any one poll is not necessarily absolute evidence of the opinion of people, particularly those living locally who are affected by the race.
Speaking from memory, the last poll that I saw. and which was referred to in the House, showed that nearly half of those questioned thought that the four-day event should not be supported. Therefore, the polling evidence available—it is difficult because we do not have it in front of us—shows that there is declining support for the race among local people.
Of course, it is the right of hon. Members to take a view on the road race. Just as it is my right to oppose it, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) has a right to support it. I would not question that for a moment. However, I was trying to deal with the suggestion that has been made repeatedly that it is reasonable and democratic for me to oppose it because its promoters realise that it is deeply unpopular among the people who live around the track, but it is not all right for other Birmingham Members to oppose it because they do not represent the people who are directly affected by it. That seems to be a deeply undemocratic argument. Those 103 representing people who do not live close to an event should respect the views of those who live close to it. That is an important part of the democratic process.
Another point made in one of the letters that I read out earlier is that the financial cost is a matter for every single ratepayer, poll tax payer and citizen of Birmingham. It is the duty of every Member of Parliament in Birmingham to take the finances seriously. We all have exactly the same interest in that, regardless of the area that we represent.
Next I turn to the unpopularity of the race among local residents because of the disruption that it causes. I went to the race for the first time last year. I did not partake of the hospitality, nor did I sit in the grandstand, but I visited a number of my constituents who live in the area. The noise was unbearable. People were going around with machines to measure the noise—on behalf of the city council and on behalf of informal groups. It is strange that the findings of that monitoring have not been made available to us. Even with the windows closed the noise exceeded recommended industrial safety levels. It was very intense, if only for short periods.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes
When my hon. Friend visited constituents in the area of the track, was she able, as a Member of Parliament, to go straight through, or did she require a pass to get into the central area—as the people who live in that area required?
§ Ms. Short
I needed a pass; the whole area is fenced off, like a prison camp. One cannot enter without a pass. We were all sent letters asking whether we wanted to go and whether we wanted passes to get into the road races. I received a pass because I had promised months before to visit my constituents.
One of the constituents whom I visited that day had been taken ill the day before and his doctor had not been allowed in because he did not have an appropriate pass. Supposedly, proper arrangements had been made, but the doctor had been turned away and had to return later. By the time my constituent got his prescription he was quite ill.
These are serious issues. In another of the houses that I visited that day there lived a young man whose job it was to be on call to go and repair cars, but he was not allowed to bring his car in and out of the area. Residents are supposed to be able to drive into certain roads, and he had to choose whether to park his car outside the fence where it was in danger of being vandalised by strangers who, perhaps, had had too much to drink, or to keep it inside and face the consequent difficulties when he was called out. These inconveniences do not amount to much singly, but they become exasperating for residents in the circumstances that I have described.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes
The point that my hon. Friend is making is well illustrated by the fact that the elected representative of the people of the area could not get in without a pass, which seems monstrous.
§ Ms. Short
I do not tend to stand on ceremony—as long as I could get in, that was all right by me. It was interesting, however, that the people staffing the gates did not know the local residents. We were promised, with the original Bill, that large numbers of jobs would be provided for local 104 people, but the people employed on the gates knew no one. I do not know who they were, but they were certainly not locals.
The present two-day race causes terrible noise and disruption; a four-day event would be unthinkable. That is another major reason why the Bill should not be further considered. The case for a four-day event is being argued with local people with a certain duplicity on the subject of whether it is likely to turn into a grand prix. A four-day event would be bad enough but a grand prix would be horrendous. There would be a great deal of noise. It is a different formula and the highest formula race is incredibly noisy and hurts the ears. Advice is given now that children should have their ears protected and a grand prix would be much more noisy than previous races.
When local people object to the potential noise and disruption of a four-day event they are told that there is no chance of a grand prix. It is said that, although it has been talked about, the track is not big enough and neither are the pits, which is what I think they are called. On the other side of the argument people try to project the level of fame and glory and the amount of tourist revenue that such a race would bring to Birmingham. In other locations the argument is advanced, as it has been advanced in the debate by the hon. Member for Northfield, that the aim is to get the grand prix.
The Bill should cease to be considered right now, because a grand prix being staged along the end of people's gardens close to their windows is an intolerable concept. No one who has been in those houses and has listened to the noise would dare to vote for it.
§ Mr. Rooker
I am open to challenge about what I said earlier. This circuit would be of no use for a grand prix. For a start people could not be accommodated around the circuit. If every available area was blocked off for spectators, all the people who wanted to see the race could still not be accommodated because it is not possible to erect grandstands on most of the circuit. It is beyond reasonableness to use this circuit for a serious grand prix on the world scale. All the other city grand prix circuits are not like the one in Birmingham. The grand prix in Adelaide, Australia and in Monaco have a lie of the land, access to the circuit and spectator accommodation utterly different from the circuit presently used in inner-city Birmingham. Such a race would require a totally different circuit. Conservative Members may shake their heads, but they should go to the circuit and have a look to see where spectators could be accommodated.
§ Ms. Short
I shall reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr and then I shall be happy to allow the hon. Member for Yardley to make his point.
I am not an expert on motor racing. I am happy to say that I have not wasted many hours of my life attending races. I went once in my youth and thought how silly it was to stand by the side of the road and see some cars go by very fast and then wait for a few minutes to see it all happen again. It seems a silly activity to me. However, I am happy that people such as the hon. Member for Northfield should engage in such a silly activity. If it gives him pleasure good luck to him, provided he pays for it 105 himself and does not require my constituents, who will have great difficulty in paying the poll tax, to pay for his hobbies and provided it does not disrupt people who do not want to be there. That is what is so unbearable about running the race around the houses of people who do not choose to be there. It is all right if the hon. Member for Northfields pays for his ticket and spends his Sunday afternoon following this rather silly hobby. That is fair enough, but it is not fair to impose it on my constituents.
I can claim some expertise. Last year when I was there there was a motor sport television team making some kind of programme about the race. A man interviewed me, but he did not know much about road racing, although the people who run such programmes generally do. He said that he thought it was extremely exciting because of the noise and because it was on ordinary streets. That was the good part. However, he said that the circuit was rotten because there was so few points from which one could see much of the race. He said, "There is no chance of it going much further. The excitement comes from having a race on ordinary streets and the noise and the smell." Apparently those are the things that turn on the aficionados, but he said that this was a rotten, useless circuit because it had so few vantage points. I cannot claim to make that point with authority but this expert who makes television programmes about such matters told me that.
§ Mr. Bevan
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way and I am glad that she has reached a breach in the sentence. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) mentioned Monaco. That is an extraordinarily restricted circuit. It is much more restricted than Birmingham, the race is on much narrower streets and there is much less capability of erecting stands. So let us get it right: if' permission were granted, the present circuit could well meet any requirements that might be imposed.
The hon. Lady is quite wrong in attributing to herself superiority of philosophical definition in suggesting that everybody who follows motor racing is childish. Millions of people in this country follow motor racing, and in the city of Birmingham there are many, many thousands who want to follow it. Indeed, they are in the majority. It is just as wrong for the hon. Lady to suggest otherwise as it was for the hon. Member for Perry Barr to suggest that there was a look of horror on the face of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) when she listened to the financial horrors that he said were unfolding. My hon. Friend's expression was just as seraphic as it had been during "Songs of Praise" yesterday.
§ Ms. Short
The hon. Gentleman suggests that, somehow, I am insulting people who enjoy road racing. Actually, I am very pleased that people are different. People engage in all sorts of extraordinary hobbies. Not one of us engages in all of them, and some of us do not understand why the activities in which some people engage on a Sunday afternoon could possibly be enjoyable. But some people enjoy watching road racing. I think that it is extraordinary that people should want to spend their time doing that. I tried it once. I saw cars going by very fast, then it was very boring for a moment, and then the cars went by very fast again. To me, road racing is not interesting or enjoyable, but the hon. Member for Northfield can enjoy it if he wishes. Of course he can, but he should pay for it himself, and he should not disrupt people who do not want to have road racing in their area.
§ Mr. Corbett
Is my hon. Friend saying that, even if the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker)—the amendment on the financial side—were acceptable, even if the money aspect were put right and were acceptable to the city council, she still would not want any form of racing, any day of the year, anywhere near her constituency?
§ Ms. Short
No. I have made it clear previously that I think that there is a majority for a two-day event. This is the problem. Some of my constituents are passionately hostile to the whole thing and wish that racing had never been held in Birmingham. Some people have always been opposed to it, whereas others, having experienced it, have become deeply opposed to it. A poll of local residents has shown that there is a majority in favour of a two-day event, but overwhelming opposition to a four-day event.
I am most anxious that this Bill should be defeated. I say to the hon. Member for Yardley that it is completely honourable to use the procedures of the House, including the possibility of having the Bill amended. If that causes the Bill to fall, I shall be overjoyed. That is my intention. It would be in the interests of the people of Birmingham, including my constituents. If it does fall, there will still be legal power for the running of a two-day race in Birmingham. In my opinion, there should be financial constraints in respect of the two-day race. That would be the best framework for road racing in Birmingham—if it is to be held there at all.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes
The thing that is particularly obnoxious about the suggestion that there should be a grand prix, lasting four days, instead of a super prix is that it would be a moveable feast. It could be held at any time, including holiday periods. In the case of a two-day or three-day event during a holiday period, people, at least theoretically, have an opportunity to get away from the area. However, during a working period, and especially when the event includes a Friday and a Monday, they have no opportunity to get away, so their lives, as well as the commercial life of the area, with which many of them are associated, are disrupted completely.
§ Ms. Short
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is a point on which I have not yet touched, but it is one of great importance. Why power has to be taken to organise racing on any occasion, not including a bank holiday, [really do not know. The disruption implications are dreadful.
I am most anxious to bring my remarks to an end. tabled an amendment to the effect that the whole event should be moved to Northfield. I am sorry that the amendment was not selected. I should love to know whether the hon. Member for Northfield would have supported it and whether, if he had, it would have been popular with his constituents. If Birmingham people who live elsewhere are in favour of it but would not want it in their own backyards, there is something wrong with it.
§ Mr. Roger King
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for inviting me to give my views on that matter. I would be quite agreeable to the same procedure as was adopted by the city council—a survey of residents around the proposed circuit to ascertain whether they would welcome the race.
If, as happened when the hon. Lady undertook her original canvass, a substantial number of constituents 107 supported the event, then I would have no objection—bar one. Try as I might, I could not evolve a road system that is as attractive and offers the hotel accommodation that the existing road race circuit offers, which brings dynamic vibration—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—I mean, vibrancy, to the city centre. It is not essential to Birmingham Heartlands—I misquoted Sir Reginald Eyre —but it is beneficial to them and to the city generally.
As to the cost of moving the race, I am at one with the hon. Lady in not wanting another £1 million or £2 million spent on moving the circuit to Northfield. I agree with the hon. Lady that that would be a scandalous waste of everyone's money.
§ Ms. Short
The hon. Gentleman gives a very clear answer. I understood him to say that he would be in favour of moving the race if a majority were in favour—and that from an hon. Member with a marginal seat. Nevertheless, I am anxious to bring my remarks to a conclusion.
I told my hon. Friend the Member for Erdington of my view. The power to run the two-day event will remain, whatever happens to the Bill. That event has been run for four years, and it has been found that the city is unable to organise it in such a way that its costs were covered. The city has also been unable to organise the race so that it complies with the basic framework of the law. It is laughable to suggest that the House should entertain a Bill to extend the city's powers when it has failed so abysmally in its efforts to run a two-day event.
The Bill should not pass, and I hope that it will not. I hope that we shall return to it again and again, until time runs out. Birmingham can then continue with a two-day event—and when it has proved that it can run that properly, it is entitled to ask for something more. However, my view is that the disruption that a four-day event would cause would be too high a price to pay for the people of Ladywood. A four-day event should be run on a purpose-built track somewhere else in Birmingham, if the city wants to be associated with such an event.
§ The Minister for Aviation and Shipping (Mr. Patrick McLoughlin)
It may be helpful if at this point I intervene briefly to restate the Government's view. I say "briefly" because I know that a number of hon. Members still hope to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
As the House knows, the Government traditionally stand neutral in relation to private Bills where no major matter of principle is involved. The Bill before the House is no exception, as was made clear to the House by the then Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), when he intervened on Second Reading last year. The Bill raises issues which are essentially of local concern and there is no case for the Government to intervene. It is for the promoter to persuade the House that the powers sought are justified. The Unopposed Bills Committee has allowed the measure to proceed with amendments in the usual way, so I hope that the House will allow the Bill to progress.
§ Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill)
The Minister's statement was very disappointing. He quoted the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), when he 108 intervened, as the Minister then responsible, in the Second Reading debate in April 1989. If the Minister's officials had given him the benefit of their research and knowledge, he would have known that his right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) made a very different statement during the passage of the Birmingham City Council Act 1985. The Minister smiles, so I assume that he is aware of her words but thought that discretion was the better part of valour and did not want to refer to them. The right hon. Member for Wallasey made it clear on that occasion, not that the Government were neutral, but that they expected the city council to run the road race on a self-financing basis. That has not happened, and that is at the heart of the objections to the Bill by my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself.
I join others of my hon. Friends in regretting the absence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell), who is to undergo an operation tomorrow, having been admitted to hospital this evening. We all look forward to his quick recovery and to his presence at any future debates on this issue.
I do not presume to speak for my right hon. Friend the Member for Small Heath. I was amused to learn that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Bevan) can apparently see into my right hon. Friend's mind and knows that he would, if he were here, agree with the hon. Member. I do not presume to speak for my right hon. Friend, although I have known him for many years, and can claim to know him rather better than the hon. Member for Yardley.
I accept that my right hon. Friend the Member for Small Heath, in his inimitable way, supported the Bill on Second Reading, but I believe and suggest to the House that a good reason for not considering the Bill any further would be to allow my right hon. Friend the Member for Small Heath to be present amongst us. I believe that if he could listen to the arguments of my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) and for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) he would have good reason to reconsider his support for the Bill on that occasion—[Interruption.] Time is passing, and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) has been notable for his absence throughout most of our proceedings this evening, so I think that he owes it to himself to listen to our arguments, especially since[Interruption.] Well, the hon. Gentleman is always absent; that is why we always make that point.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) was quoted in the Birmingham newspapers last weekend as saying that he did not understand the objections of the opponents of the Bill. Therefore, I shall give the hon. Member for Northfield a further opportunity to understand our objections.
The hon. Member for Yardley claims that the reason why he gave way and why his speech was suddenly deflated during the Second Reading debate in April 1989 was that he was anxious to listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr, and to understand our objections. I regret that within minutes the hon. Member for Yardley was voting on the closure to stop my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr from expressing his objections and explaining why the Bill should not be given a Second Reading.
There are two basic grounds for objecting to the Bill and for arguing that it should not be given further consideration. The first concerns the effect on the residents 109 who live in the area affected by the race, such as the constituents represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood. The second is the financial argument.
§ Mr. Davis
The hon. Member for Yardley always has a short attention span and has often heard enough very quickly. However, let me return to the objections to the Bill.
I must be fair to the city council, and I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood would at least join me in this tribute to it. It did not seek to prevent her constituents from petitioning, from objecting to the Bill, or from appearing before the Committee—on which my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) served—to enable the Committee to hear the reasons for her constituents' passionate objections to the idea that the event should be extended to four days and to the idea of a grand prix. I regret that some other bodies such as the West Midlands passenger transport authority do not take the same attitude and are objecting to the locus standi of residents in similar situations on other Bills, which I shall not discuss this evening because time is pressing, but we will have plenty of opportunity to discuss that on other private Bills during the Session.
§ Ms. Short
Some of my constituents did petition, but there is cost and difficulty involved for people who wish to petition. The city council tried to prevent someone from petitioning because he was in its employment, and it led to an important matter of privilege coming before the House, so I am afraid—and I am sorry to detract from the compliment that my hon. Friend is paying—that the city council tried to limit the power of people to petition against the Bill.
§ Mr. Davis
I stand corrected by my hon. Friend. I had forgotten that regrettable incident. Of course, the Select Committee found that the city council was in breach of privilege. However, I think that my hon. Friend will agree that it is interesting that as soon as a complaint was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood on behalf of that member of staff the hon. Member for Northfield, with his knowledge and insight into what goes on in the Labour rooms of the city council, was able to say categorically to the press that it was all nonsense and there was no breach of privilege. He knew; my hon. Friends did not know. My hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr did not know, but the hon. Member for Northfield has a special line to the people who support the Bill in the city council. The hon. Member for Northfield was able to say categorically that there was no breach of parliamentary privilege, and I have yet to see him withdraw that statement, as I have yet to hear him explain the position on a number of the factors which affect the Bill.
The hon. Member for Yardley—I cannot leave him alone—said—[Interruption.] I shall leave the hon. Member for Selly Oak alone because he has not been here long enough, but the hon. Member for Yardley has sat patiently throughout the debate, and he said that the amendments to the Bill accepted in Committee protected the residents of Ladywood in every possible way. Of course, they do not.
110 My hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood has made it clear that she is not satisfied, as have many of her constituents. They are not sufficiently protected: certainly they are not protected in every possible way. If they were, my hon. Friend would not have been able to table so many amendments. One reason why we should not proceed with the Bill is to allow the city council to devote adequate thought to the amendments, no doubt with the advice of the hon. Members for Yardley and for Northfield.
I support the protestations of my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood on behalf of her constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr has already quoted from a letter that I received from a gentleman living in Wheeley's road, Edgbaston. I am not sure whether Wheeley's road is in my hon. Friend's constituency; perhaps it is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight), who said earlier that she would take up the complaints of one of our correspondents. I hope that she will take up this complaint as well: she may have received it already.
§ Dame Jill Knight
What I said was that this was the first that I had heard of the matter. No complaint had been made to me about the road race damaging the fabric of school buildings. Had I received such a complaint, I would have been more than ready to take it up.
§ Dame Jill Knight
No, I do not believe that.
I said to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) exactly what I have just repeated. The hon. Gentleman mentioned a particular incident. I listened carefully to what was said, and I have since checked, but I have received no letter about such matters in my capacity as Member of Parliament for that area.
§ Mr. Davis
I accept what the hon. Lady says, although I am not sure whether she means that she has had no letters of complaint at all, or no letters from the gentleman whom I mentioned.
Although I was not sure whose constituent the author of the letter was, I feel free to quote from it. It states:We live at the City end of Wheeley's Road and hence, are on the fringes of the race area, but like many others are subjected to the full environmental factors and inconvenience which this event brings and were never asked for our opinion, despite the City publicity on polls and soundings among local residents. Road delays spread over many weeks, green areas turned into dirty dumping grounds for concrete and fencing, noise and concern about domestic security at a time when there are many visitors to the area are some of the more obvious drawbacks. The noise and threatening nature of helicopters belonging to the police and television companies over a residential district, are a separate, but equally distressing saga.I suspect that the same complaint will be made by many people who live in that part of Edgbaston—and, indeed. by many people who live in the relevant parts of Ladywood and Sparkbrook. Hon. Members should note 111 that my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) is also opposed to the Bill in principle.
Although I accept that the hon. Member for Northfield has given his undertakings in good faith, there was nothing to stop the city council from observing many of those undertakings last year. It did not do so, and I question whether it wants to. Our experience of the undertakings given by the council—undertakings given in the House, and enshrined in an amendment drafted by the council —does not encourage us to accept its undertakings in future.
§ Question put, That the Question be now put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 75, Noes 24.112
|Division No. 97]||[9.58 pm|
|Alexander, Richard||King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Knapman, Roger|
|Brazier, Julian||Knight, Greg (Derby North)|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)||Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)|
|Butterfill, John||Knox, David|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Lightbown, David|
|Chapman, Sydney||Lilley, Peter|
|Chope, Christopher||Lord, Michael|
|Clelland, David||Maclean, David|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Corbett, Robin||McWilliam, John|
|Crowther, Stan||Mans, Keith|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Michael, Alun|
|Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Moss, Malcolm|
|Durant, Tony||Moynihan, Hon Colin|
|Fallon, Michael||Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Fookes, Dame Janet||Paice, James|
|Forman, Nigel||Patnick, Irvine|
|Forth, Eric||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman||Renton, Rt Hon Tim|
|Fraser, John||Rhodes James, Robert|
|French, Douglas||Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Gale, Roger||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)|
|Gill, Christopher||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)||Steel, Rt Hon Sir David|
|Gregory, Conal||Stevens, Lewis|
|Ground, Patrick||Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')||Thorne, Neil|
|Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)||Wallace, James|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Wells, Bowen|
|Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Irvine, Michael||Mr. David Gilroy Bevan and|
|Janman, Tim||Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark|
|Ashby, David||Bermingham, Gerald|
|Ashton, Joe||Blunkett, David|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Dalyell, Tam|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)||Pike, Peter L.|
|Dixon, Don||Rooker, Jeff|
|Doran, Frank||Short, Clare|
|Flynn, Paul||Skinner, Dennis|
|Haynes, Frank||Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)|
|Janner, Greville||Spearing, Nigel|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Tredinnick, David|
|McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)||Tellers for the Noes|
|Meale, Alan||Mr. Martin Redmond and|
|Mowlam, Marjorie||Mr. Harry Barnes.|
§ Whereupon MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER declared that the Question was not decided in the affirmative, because it was not supported by the majority prescribed by Standing Order No. 36 (Majority for closure or for proposal of question).
§ It being after Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed on Thursday 1 March.